At the start of the pandemic, when Amazon relaxed its rules on allowing smartphones in the warehouse, an employee now known as “thepackman123” saw an opportunity.
The 23-year-old, who works at a New York establishment and asked not to be named, began filming himself – with his face covered – stuffing products into packages to send to customers. With an entertaining flair, he quickly builds each box before sending it out on his way.
At the suggestion of his friends, he started posting the videos on TikTok. Twenty-seven million views later, he received a message from Amazon’s human resources department. “I was like… I’m in trouble,” he recalls.
While big brands often claim the attention of social media influencers, the relationship is complicated when that person is already an employee: a grassroots worker who has earned a following by sharing insight into private operations.
“Employees are extensions of the brand, so when they post about the company on social media, they have the potential to feel really authentic,” said Lydia Cox, global advertising agency Digitas. . “That said, it can also be detrimental when the look behind the curtain doesn’t match the values and promises the brand preaches.”
Thepackman123 said Amazon tracked it down via a packaging tag visible in one of its clips. Amazon has not confirmed this, but said it knows her true identity.
Despite violating Amazon’s strict policies, to his surprise, he kept his job. He said he believed it was because he had shown the company and its much-maligned warehouse jobs in a somewhat positive light – at a time when Amazon is embarked on an unprecedented recruiting drive.
“There was a lot of hatred towards the company,” he says. “But if you look in the comments, everyone was like, ‘Oh, I want to do this job.'”
“Influential employee” accounts like thepackman123 are scattered across major social platforms. With their winning authenticity, they are often far better than official marketing efforts.
But employee influencers don’t always get the attention companies want. Earlier this month, another Amazon employee posted a clip calling the work “toxic” and “inhuman,” while a Target employee recorded a video of herself resigning on the top. speaker of a store.
When businesses find popular accounts, their reaction is often to shut them down, leaving fans bereft and brands appearing disconnected. Tony Piloseno, a 22-year-old who worked for the Sherwin-Williams paint company, was fired after the company discovered his TikTok account, which showed the hypnotic process of mixing paint.
The posts attracted millions of views, and Mr. Piloseno, a marketing student, created a presentation he hoped to show the company’s corporate team. The leaders refused to watch him, he said, and fired him shortly after. The company also accused him of wasting his product, although he insists he paid for all the paint he mixed.
A wave of negative publicity followed his dismissal. “People saw it as the classic story of David and Goliath,” he said.
Mr. Piloseno now works for a rival, Florida Paints, after turning down other job offers at similar companies and a handful of digital marketing agencies. “We wish Tony the best in the next phase of his career,” said Sherwin-Williams.
Some companies are now actively seeking to harness the appeal of employee influencers, while minimizing the reputational risk involved. A number of influencer management companies have moved into the space to guide their efforts.
The UK-based DSMN8, which counts Ford and Huawei as its customers, offers software to help coordinate employee activity on public social media channels. A dashboard provides images and suggested topics to post to. Awards, although not necessarily salary increases, are given to the best performers.
“It’s about finding that kind of dedicated and unconditional internal fan who is comfortable and willing to create content,” said Jody Leon, DSMN8 Marketing Director. The end result is more interesting items at a fraction of the cost.
“Let’s face it, [traditional influencers] don’t get out of bed for less than a few thousand these days.
America’s largest employer, Walmart, has recruited around 500 employees to be part of its own employee influencer program, known as Spotlight, first reported by industry magazine Modern Retail. On TikTok, the #walmartsocialchamps tag brings their best efforts together, never straying from the company’s message.
But even these staged efforts come with their own potential banana peels. Last year, when it was revealed that Amazon was paying staff to tweet glowing remarks about their warehouse jobs, survey site Bellingcat compared the behavior to that of the famous Internet search agency’s trolls. from Russia. Twitter users laughed at the accounts, suggesting they read as if they had been written by “hostages.”
While the ‘Fulfillment Center Ambassador’ program still exists, thepackman123 insisted that it was not part of it and that he had not received any guidance on what to do when he was. approached by the media.
His main concern now, he said, was leveraging his social media presence by finding ways to share his personality more on his thread. But he said every post that deviated from its packaging formula caused him to lose followers.
“A lot of people say ‘OK. . . why am I this guy?